Headquartered in Monza, Italy, RhemaStem is a unique biotech company that specializes in developing innovative and effective drugs for colorectal cancer and other solid cancers. The company’s mission is to cure colorectal cancer and other solid cancers using its expertise in the area of cancer and normal stem cells. I had the distinct honour of interviewing Dr. Zeni of RhemaStem.
In this interview, we explore the founding of Rhemstem, its unique technology platform, intellectual property (IP), future directions, and more. Enjoy!
Interview with Dr. Zeni of Rhemastem
Cade Hildreth: What were the reasons and goals behind founding RhemaStem?
Dr. Zeni: RhemaStem was founded after more than 15 years of research work in the area of cancer stem cells. The company was created to provide an advanced and unique platform technology capable of addressing a critical shortcoming in the existing methods for isolation and production of tumour and normal stem cells used within drug discovery and development.
Put concisely, our goal is to cure colorectal cancer and other solid cancers using our expertise and skills within the areas of cancer and normal stem cells. Our strategy is to establish novel systems that allows for the isolation and stable perpetuation of bona fide human cancer stem cells from solid tumors, especially colon cancer.
We also discover novel therapeutic compounds for treating colon cancer and other solid tumors that have numerous advantages over existing treatment modalities. Finally, we are developing therapeutic compounds able to effectively inhibit the growth, proliferation and metastasis of a cancer – in particular, cancers affecting the gastrointestinal tract, such as a colon cancer.
Cade Hildreth: That is an exciting company mission. What are cancer stem cells and what is their role in tumor growth and metastasis?
Dr. Zeni: A growing body of evidence supports the contention that epithelial cancers are driven by a small sub-population of self-renewing, multipotent cells, termed cancer stem cells or cancer-initiating cells (CSCs). These cells are also thought to initiate tumour metastasis and relapse after therapy.
Initially identified in hematopoietic tumors, these cells have been now found in a variety of solid tumors, including breast, brain, pancreas, skin, head and neck, prostate, as well as colon cancers. Cancer is a disease characterized by uncontrolled cell growth in the tissues. If left untreated this cell growth can spread beyond the tissue in a process called metastasis into nearby tissue and eventually into other parts of the body.
Cade Hildreth: Why did Rhemastem choose to focus on the area of colorectal cancer and solid cancers?
Dr. Zeni: Cancer is often fatal, especially when it has metastasized. There is essentially no cure for colorectal cancer, and management therapy is commonly based on a combination of surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
Colorectal cancer stem cells are a peculiar case, because until now, there has been no available medium for the in vitro growth of these cells.
We realized that a suitable model was necessary to study metastasis. To better address this major life-threatening problem, we need to understand the molecular and cellular mechanisms that lead primary tumours to form metastasis. To make clinical progress, it is necessary to identify genes that can block or suppress metastasis. Metastasis-mediating genes constitute worthy diagnostic markers and therapeutic targets.
Cade Hildreth: Rhemstem has a proprietary medium that you use to readily isolate and select for stem cells in solid tumors. What is the critical importance of this technology?
Dr. Zeni: Rhemastem has developed a novel growth medium product. This medium facilitates the growth and maintenance of populations of human solid tumour stem cells. It is unique because it grows almost all the stem cells from human solid tumours. This Growth Medium has been successfully tested in vivo on a small scale.
Importantly, this Growth Medium allows for the effective, routine establishment of continuous lines of colon cancer stem cell lines from human specimens. In these lines, the very tumour-initiating cells that can reproduce the original colorectal cancer unfold their self-renewal potential, so that the very same colon cancer stem cells (CCSCs) are demonstrably perpetuated and amplified in number over virtually unlimited time.
This is ground-breaking, because it provides a system in which the main characteristics of the CCSCs and bona-fide models of colorectal carcinomas and other solid tumors can be stably and faithfully reproduced on a broad scale and over time.
Cade Hildreth: That is both incredible and revolutionary. How would you describe the benefits of isolating and producing tumor (and normal) stem cells for use in drug discovery and development?
Dr. Zeni: That is an important question. Tumor and normal stem cells are a powerful resource for many aspects of biomedical research, such as target identification and drug screening and development. These cells provide a preclinical method to obtain insights into drug responses that would otherwise only become known during or after clinical trials are conducted on patients. In addition to the exorbitant costs of clinical trials, this also puts human patients at risk.
The lack of the right medium (product) and technology for the study of colorectal cancer and other human solid tumours have been a major concern hindering drug discovery. With the wrong starting material, the end results are often unexpected or compromised. This is a huge problem and great challenge within the field.
Cade Hildreth: What type of patents and intellectual property (IP) has Rhemastem secured?
Dr. Zeni: First, the talent, expertise and commitment of our scientific teams have made and will continue to make RhemaStem the leader in the area of cancer and normal stem cell research for innovative drug discovery within the fields of oncology and regenerative medicine (RM).
Second, we offer consulting services in this area with numerous unique platform technologies that we have developed over the last fifteen (15) years. These platform technologies have a remarkably wide range of possible applications.
Third, RhemaStem has filed patent applications that, if granted, substantially cover our current and future product development. These patent families have been developed and are owned by the Rhemastem. When the time comes, these patent applications will be filed under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) that allows for applications across most international territories.
Finally, our competitors have been unable to successfully develop Growth Medium, providing an important barrier to entry.
Cade Hildreth: What trends are you seeing within the stem cell sector and how is Rhemastem rising to meet them?
Dr. Zeni: Recent advances involving the isolation and characterization of epithelial stem cells have paved the way for exploring novel therapeutic approaches to burdensome diseases. The potential of adult stem cells within regenerative biology, as well as clinical medicine, as also becoming apparent. This has opened up new therapeutic opportunities for a wide range of diseases.
However, little is known about the possibility of in vivo regeneration within intestinal tissues using human colon stem cells expanded in vitro.
Our recent approach and experiments provide novel insights into the functional attributes that define colon stem cells. They also elucidate future opportunities for the therapeutic use of human normal colon stem cells(HNCS) within regenerative medicine. Specifically, our goal is to utilize in vitro expansion of human colonic stem cells and the proof-of-principle that human normal colon stem cells (HNCS) cells have clinical potential.
With the novel ground-breaking technology developed by Rhemastem, it is now possible to isolate both the tumor and the normal stem cells from the same patient. This will provide access to a unique and robust platform that links patient–specific genetic and phenotypic information to preclinical and clinical drug responsiveness.
Cade Hildreth: What are your five-year goals for Rhemastem?
Dr. Zeni: Rhemastem’s 5-year goals are to create stem cell banks for other solid tumors – including breast, lungs, brain, colon, ovary, liver, intestine, and prostrate – that will be useful as research tools. We aim to identify potential compounds that could potentially cure the tumor from its root and avoid relapse. Further in vivo testing of our colorectal cancer therapeutic candidates from pre-clinical to clinical trials will also be undertaken.
Additionally, we are aiming to create a stem cell bank with extensive characterization which consists of genetics, histological, and clinical data, accompanied by responses to drug treatments for the disease model.
Cade Hildreth. What types of partnerships or collaborations would benefit Rhemastem?
Dr. Zeni: Rhemastem has identified numerous potential compounds that block colorectal cancers and further validation. For this reason, we welcome partners and collaborates to further validate these compounds and progress them through clinical trials.
Our lead therapeutic compound has been shown to reduce populations of colon cancer, both in vitro and in vivo. This compound and its associated mechanism of action warrant further clinical investigation, as well as development as a commercial therapeutic for colon cancer and potentially for other tumor types. It is available for exclusive and non-exclusive licensing or for R&D collaboration.
We also offering licensing opportunities to strategic partners. For example, our Growth medium is available for licensing to companies that produce and market stem cell growth medium.
Cade Hildreth: Because RhemaStem has extensive expertise in the area of solid cancer stem cells, you also offer consulting services. What types of clients utilize these services and how do you support them?
Dr. Zeni: Yes, we do offer consulting services. With our extensive expertise and skills in the area of cancer and normal stem cells, we have developed conviction about the power of our approach. Rhemastem offers consulting services related to solid cancer stem cells, including cancers of the colon, lung, breast, prostate, ovary, brain, and circulating blood cells. Today, many biotech and pharmaceutical companies are either working with stem cells or are interested in validating their drugs on colorectal cancer stem cells. There are also numerous institutions that work with solid tumors who are interested in stem cell technologies.
We assist our consulting clients based on their objectives and goals, giving them the support that they need to isolate stem cells from patient biopsies or to establish stem cell lines that can be routinely used to carry out their experiments.
Cade Hildreth: Would Rhemastem be interested in having investors? If so, how would external investment support Rhemastem’s clinical development?
Dr. Zeni: Yes, Rhemastem welcomes enquires from external investors, especially at this crucial point in our preclinical and clinical development. By investing in a biotechnology company like Rhemastem – a company that already has ground-breaking technology – you are helping to develop technology that will save the lives of human patients. You are also supporting the accelerated development of cures to fatal diseases, such as colorectal cancer and other cancers.
Additionally, investing in Rhemastem is a comparatively safe investment compared to many other biotech companies, because we have established technology and therapeutic targets. We are also going after a large market opportunity. According to Cancer.org, the lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is 1 in 22 (4.49%) for men and 1 in 24 (4.15%) for women. Science will never be short of innovations and Rhemastem is advancing at a breath-taking speed, producing a revolution in how colorectal and other cancers will be treated in the future.
Cade Hildreth: How can people get in touch with you or learn more about Rhemastem?
Dr. Zeni: For general quesitons, we can be reached at [email protected], for investor request, we can be reached at [email protected], and for parternship enquiries, we recommend contacting us at [email protected].
A great deal of information can also be found on our website at Rhemastem.com.
Do you have questions about Rhemastem’s novel technologies? Ask them in the comments below.